Marco Polo Biography
Marco Polo was an Italian traveler and explorer. He was born in 1254 in Venice and died in 1324, also in Venice.
At a time when Venice was a prosperous city that dominated Byzantium, its wealthy merchants seized the opportunity to trade with the Muslims who controlled the Silk Road.
At that time, the Republic of Venice was a great commercial power in Europe. Thus, its rich merchants took advantage of this opportunity to trade with the Muslims who dominated the Route.
On the other hand, some of them like the Polo wanted to cross this barrier and make direct contact with the Asian powers.
Niccolò and Matteo Polo left in 1260 to take up their trading posts in Constantinople and opened one in the Crimea on the Black Sea.
Then they went on a trip to Central Asia and met Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kubilai Khan, the first Mongolian emperor of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) in China.
He promised them a monopoly on all commercial transactions between China and Christianity, in exchange for sending scholars and artists who could describe the Christian world to him.
The Great Journey
But some, like Niccolo Polo, go further. Marco’s father continues his journey with his brother Matteo to China.
He meets the Mongolian Emperor Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan.
After an absence of fifteen years, Niccolo returns to Venice with a prestigious mission: he is commissioned by Kublai to convey a message of sympathy to the Pope and to ask him to bring to China the scholars capable of transmitting to the East the knowledge of the Latins.
However, when he arrives in Venice, Niccolo does not find his wife, but a fifteen-year-old son named Marco.
The Venetian nobleman died prematurely a few years earlier. As for Marco, we do not know if he was born shortly after or before his father’s departure.
Despite a delay due to the election of the Pope, Niccolo Polo and Matteo Polo left two years later, this time accompanied by young Marco.
He returned to Venice 24 years after leaving, and then participated in the war with Genoa, where he was taken prisoner.
The stories he told to Rusticello of Pisa, a fellow prisoner, allowed him to write the Book of Wonders of the World, written in French, a work that later inspired Christopher Columbus, among others, who discovered two discoveries unknown in Europe, paper money and coal.
Marco Polo’s Journey
The return route of this trip was very difficult to establish and is still being discussed. In reality, Marco Polo’s story book does not represent a road map describing the explorer’s journey.
It is rather a summation of descriptions of what he saw and did after entering the service of Emperor Kubilai Khan.
Marco Polo would have passed through San Juan de Acre (now Israel), Baghdad, Hormuz (Persia), Balkh (now Afghanistan) before arriving in China – via Xinjiang – to reach Beijing. The return to Venice in 1295 will be from Hangzhou by sea to Ormuz, and then by land.
The Emperor at the center of the stories
On his return, Marco Polo takes part in a war between Venice and Genoa, another great European commercial power.
He is taken prisoner and his cellmate is none other than Rustichello de Pisa, a French-speaking Italian writer. The latter will be the first editor of Marco Polo’s book.
The Book of Wonders will also be the first travel story written in French. However, the text is said to have been subject to many manipulations, especially in the 16th century, when the original manuscript was lost.
The fact is that this work focuses on Kubilai Khan and his empire.
Marco Polo evokes Russia, Central Asia, Iran, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Burma, Cambodia, the island of Sumatra (Indonesia), Sri Lanka, southern India and even Madagascar.
In fact, these regions were either possessions of the Khan or areas to be conquered. They could also be places where emissaries were sent to obtain an offer from them, or areas of trade.
Some historians considered the Book of Wonders as a kind of encyclopedia, a geography or a chronicle of the emperor.
Actually, Marco Polo’s story book would be more of a news story.
Marco Polo’s missions
A true man of the Emperor Kubilai Khan, Marco Polo has carried out at least five great missions, with others still to be tested.
It will describe many curiosities that will interest the kings of Europe as well as many explorers like Christopher Columbus and other contemporary cartographers.
His first mission will be to Zhangye, in what is now Gansu Province. He will act as a messenger in a “king’s affair” for which he will have to write a report to the emperor.
Marco Polo will also reside for three years in Yangzhou, a city in the center (Jiangsu province) conquered by the Mongols.
He will carry out a financial control at the port of Hangzhou in the east, to check that the emperor was not deceived. He will also be sent as ambassador to Vietnam, Burma and India.
A man curious about everything
Marco Polo will describe countless curiosities, but will talk about very concrete things like the use of coal, the processes of extracting asbestos, Chinese junks and, of course, the use of paper money (bank bills).
Marco Polo will also describe many spices, be it cinnamon, saffron, pepper, clove, nutmeg, etc. He will also make abundant mention of various culinary specialties.
Mastering at least five oriental languages and four writing systems, Marco Polo could also be considered a kind of ethnologist.
He showed great sensitivity to the diversity of societies without making negative judgments. His observations and the nature of his stories were intended, among other things, to make Europe realize that it was not the center of the world.
Their stories are also full of myths, legends and religious facts. You will travel to Tibet and talk in detail about the customs and everything related to religion.
In India, for example, he will mention respect for sacred cows. While he will talk a lot about Lamaist Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and certain derivatives of Christianity (for example, the Nestorians), he will also talk about animist peoples who worship idols.
Although he will not make any negative judgments, Marco Polo will still be horrified by the custom of a tribe in Sumatra. Under the impulse of the sorcerers, the members would devour the sick after having suffocated and cooked them.
Written at a time when Europeans are completely ignorant of the Far East, with the exception of traders who, however, rarely leave the Silk Road, this book provides exceptional knowledge.
The many geographical details it contains could be verified later. The banknote initiated by the emperor and the use of coal by the Chinese are all details that draw attention and make the story plausible.
However, some claim that this account was purely fictitious. They are based on the lack of mention of the Chinese wall, the importance of pork in cooked dishes or the deformation of the feet of Chinese women.
The long descriptions of landscapes whose credibility cannot be questioned would have been communicated to Marco by Muslims who know the region much better than Christians.
It is likely that many details have been embellished. For example, the limited size of the wall at the time, the confinement of women, and other arguments still answer these charges.
Remember that the text was written by a novelist at a time when epic stories were authoritative and, above all, that in the absence of printing, the text was certainly modified by small touches of the copyist monks.
In addition, the text has undergone numerous manipulations, especially in the 16th century, and the original manuscript is lost. Despite all the debates that may continue around the history of Marco Polo, the importance of the latter in Europe in the Middle Ages and then in the Renaissance is beyond doubt.
It contributed significantly to the establishment of new routes to the East, reducing the number of caravanserai tickets. And it is also under the influence of this work that Christopher Columbus will sail westward to open a new route to India.
When does Marco Polo die?
January 8, 1324: death of Marco Polo
The Italian traveler and businessman Marco Polo died in Venice at the age of 70.
Where is the grave or where is Marco Polo buried?
San Lorenzo Church, Venice, Italy
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